Debbie McKee Demczyk
Dean, Research Services, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship, Durham College
Research isn’t just about microscopes and lab coats — it’s about solving real-world problems for local businesses. Here’s how small and medium enterprises benefit from working with Durham College.
When people think about research, a picture of someone in a laboratory bent over a microscope might come to mind,” says Debbie McKee Demczyk, Dean of Research Services, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship at Durham College. “But at the college level, we engage in applied research, which means working with local businesses and community partners to help them solve a problem. We do that by forming a project team — consisting of faculty, students, and the industry partner — to address their business needs.”
Applied research projects are a win-win for colleges and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). SMEs looking to grow and innovate by developing their technology draw on Durham’s considerable infrastructure, access to funding, and specialized talent pool. Meanwhile, Durham students gain invaluable real-world experience in their field of study.
“Our mission statement is ‘Together, we’re leading the way,’ which really speaks to our culture of collaboration,” says McKee Demczyk. “Working with businesses to see our community grow and succeed, and training the right talent for businesses so that we can all be successful, is foundational to our work.” SMEs can expect to retain full control of their project, since the college doesn’t typically take a stake in companies’ intellectual property.
Durham College has four dedicated applied research centres:
Hub for Applied Research in Artificial Intelligence for Business Solutions (the AI Hub)
The AI Hub — Durham College’s first and largest applied research centre — has two primary tracks. The first centres on companies seeking to leverage existing data within their corporate systems. Researchers at Durham use state-of-the-art AI techniques to create business insights and recommendations from data, which can be a highly-beneficial asset when used appropriately. Durham also specializes in developing AI to help companies interface with their clients through automation, like advanced chatbots and voice recognition software.
Recently, Durham researchers collaborated with Precise ParkLink, a parking management solutions company, to help improve forecasting with regard to parking capacity, location marketing, and profitability. Using AI-driven data analysis enabled by Durham College, Precise ParkLink was able to deploy Canada’s first-ever AI-based virtual parking assistant.
Centre for Cybersecurity Innovation
Cybersecurity is at the forefront of many business owners’ minds, and for good reason. Cyber threats are a serious liability for SMEs — about 20 percent of cyber attacks in Canada target businesses with 10 to 49 employees, according to Statistics Canada. Durham College’s Centre for Cybersecurity Innovation — the first of its kind in the region — leverages its market-driven educational approach to tackle the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats.
“With COVID-19, many businesses have had to rely on the internet in ways they never have before,” says McKee Demczyk. “Our researchers ensure companies’ systems are as robust as they can possibly be.” State-of-the-art cybersecurity is important for any company, but is especially crucial for businesses that collect personal information from customers.
Centre for Craft Brewing Innovation (CCBI)
The CCBI, complete with a 50-litre pilot brew line and state-of-the-art brew lab, draws on the expertise of its resident microbiologist and brewmaster to help craft brewers improve their products. One recent project saw the development of a non-alcoholic beer, for a company called Partake Brewing, that went on to win multiple awards.
Mixed Reality Capture (MRC) Studio
Virtual reality (VR) training simulations are becoming increasingly important as companies and services look to train their employees while minimizing safety risks. The MRC Studio works with businesses to develop effective, immersive virtual training scenarios. SMEs benefit from the studio’s VR tracking equipment, green screen compositing space, and the extensive expertise of Durham’s student and faculty talent pool.